Monday, December 10, 2012

Changeoverscope: Daniel Craig as James Bond

I wanted to try something new with my movie reviews, because the long involved focused ones get to be too time and energy consuming. I'd like to talk about more flicks than I've managed to without suffering through hours of commentary tracks and such. Hence, "Changeoverscope," a selection of relatively brief, informal, often related movie critiques. First up, my girlfriend recently decided that she has a thing for squishfaced Daniel Craig, which motivated her to watch all of his appearances as James Bond, and I went along for the ride.

I saw Casino Royale when it hit theaters in 2006 with a friend who was a fellow long time Bond fan. We'd both really liked the first Brosnan Bond, Goldeneye, but we agreed that the series had gone downhill from there. We turned to one another and sneered over what I still feel is one of the very worst Bond tunes ever, Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name." For my buddy, Casino Royale was the final straw, as he found the reboot a hokey Bourne impersonation. I enjoyed the flick the first time, as it was my initial exposure to parkour, I appreciate Martin Campbell's directorial eye, and I'd abused myself repeatedly to Eva Green in The Dreamers. Judi Dench remained a great M, and I was cool with Jeffrey Wright as the new Felix Leiter. On the other hand, I found Craig a boring thug, and Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre was laughably ridiculous. Despite giving the movie a thumb up, I didn't watch it again for six years, and only half paid attention to it on home video. On review, I wish we'd had more time with Isaach De Bankolé's Steven Obanno, a far more menacing and dynamic villain. The movie really seemed to drag on, with too many cutesy nods to franchise hallmarks.

I actively watched Quantum of Solace, which I'd skipped in 2008. After the Moore-like parodic lows of Brosnan, I think folks were so relieved by Casino Royale's grit that they allowed euphoria to conceal its flaws. Quantum was then overly criticized from the point of its name being announced. The main problem with the sequel is its dependance on Casino Royale for context. It's a revenge flick like License To Kill, but doesn't feature the motivating slight, so it fails to engage the audience's emotions on its own. Some of the action set pieces thrill, others not, and the story meanders considerably (though it's still more clever than Royale in its plots.) Olga Kurylenko plays against her strengths as a Ukrainian actress in a Bond flick by running around with a gross Jersey Shore tan as an unconvincing Bolivian. Gemma Arterton is an element of Bond Girl recidivism as the arch, doomed Strawberry Fields. On the other hand, Mathieu Amalric has been excessively hated as the intentionally weaselly Dominic Greene, who serves his role as a guy you want to meet a bad end while offering a hard pitch for the secret organization Quantum as the new SPECTRE. Giancarlo Giannini makes a much better impression upon returning to the role of Rene Mathis, including one of the all time great scenes in a Bond feature. Daniel Craig had an opportunity to express the pain and anger that drives him to inhuman feats, and better recalls the hard edged Bond of the Fleming novels. Craig may not be my favorite actor to play Bond, but his physicality and intensity make him far and away the best actor to personify Bond as conceived for the novels. I very much enjoyed Marc Forster's stylish direction on a tighter, meaner Bond flick with a solid final set piece and more satisfying closure than the previous entry.

Skyfall took twice as long to get released, and there were years of doubt that any new Bond was forthcoming in the wake of the MGM bankruptcy, much less on time for the fiftieth anniversary of his cinematic debut. Absence, anxiety, and not a little nostalgia seem to have made critics receptive to the point of once again crowing a new Craig film the best Bond ever. I suspect history will not be so kind, as the flick is dumb, dull and downbeat. A foul-up in the cold opening helps to explain why Craig looks so much older, introduces Naomie Harris' serviceable Moneypenny to the new continuity, and sets up the most visually potent title sequence of the new era (which in turn strengthens the impact of Adele's vocal histrionics despite lyrical pablum.) The always exceptional Judi Dench offers her finest turn as M, and Ben Whishaw is creepy cool as the first Q intended to be taken seriously. However, Javier Bardem will one day know scorn for trafficking in homophobia to sell his tepid retread of both Heath Ledger's Joker and several prior, superior Bond villains (Alec Trevelyan by way of Blofeld.) Bérénice Marlohe's treatment as the transparently thin Sévérine is contemptible, while Ralph Fiennes' Gareth Mallory has all the subtly of Poochie in its obvious intention. The screenplay if full of "why did that even happen" and general ridiculousness. An awful lot of fan wankery is pressed into the mess, like a reunited band promoting their new album on tour by playing through their catalog hits in a too desperate bid to reconnect with their audience. The final act is horrid; the least compelling setting and action of any Bond film that I can recall. I was literally fighting off sleep, which is a shame, because director Sam Mendes' earlier set pieces were visually stunning. At least it leaves the pieces in place for less precious and more propulsive entries to come.

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